Business and government leaders at the Saint Mary's College State of the Economy Conference on April 27 said the Bay Area economy is rebounding, but warned that the federal deficit and higher interest rates could hamper the recovery.

"We've seen a number of encouraging signs in the Bay Area," said Howard Roth, chief economist for the California Department of Finance. "I'm looking for the Bay Area to contribute more to the state economy in 2005."

Roth kicked off the first of four panels examining issues facing the region's economy at Saint Mary's College's 4th annual State of the Economy Conference. More than 150 corporate and civic leaders, Saint Mary's faculty, staff and students attended this year's conference.

In what would prove a further boost to the regional economy, Roth predicted that San Francisco will likely be the winner among several California cities vying for the prestigious headquarters for the state's new stem cell institute, because it is home to most of the state's biotech workers.

Roth cautioned, however, that the federal budget deficit, surging energy costs and creeping interest rates will prevent the national economy from expanding like it did in 2004.

"I'm concerned about the widening trade deficit that we have in the United States and that's only going to get worse with rising oil prices," he said.

For the second year in a row, faculty members and students from the School of Economics and Business Administration teamed up with business reporters from the Contra Costa Times on an in-depth study of the East Bay economy. The results of that collaboration were published in its Sunday, April 24 edition in a special section titled "Times/Saint Mary's East Bay Economic Outlook." At the conference, Contra Costa Times business editor Stephen Trousdale outlined the highlights of their research:

* The Bay Area's greatest challenge is housing affordability.
* Technology has made a surprising comeback in terms of jobs and income.
* The opening of Wal-Mart SuperCenters in the Bay Area will reshape the economy for better and for worse.
* The busy construction industry has stepped up to provide the well-paying blue-collar jobs previously lost due to declines in manufacturing.
* Like many previous immigrant groups, the Latino community is overcoming challenges through hard work and the creation of new businesses.

Contra Costa Times business reporter George Avalos said research conducted by Saint Mary's College professor David Mitchell revealed that more than half of the best jobs in the East Bay are in the tech sector.

"High-tech is doing a pretty good job at playing the comeback kid of this decade," said Avalos.

Michael Billeci, regional president of Wells Fargo Bank and a Saint Mary's College alumnus, said East Bay employers are hiring and adding jobs. The East Bay's diverse economy and highly educated work force have helped the region bounce back from the dot-com decline, he said.

For the first time, the conference spotlighted the Hispanic community, the fastest-growing ethnic population in California. Saint Mary's visiting professor Carlos Baradello said his research for the Contra Costa Times showed that while Hispanics in the United States serve as trendsetters to Latin America in terms of consumption and lifestyle, they have lower income rates and higher student drop-out rates than the U.S. average.

"Hispanics perform poorly across most economic indicators," said Baradello. "There is clearly a lot the Hispanic group has to do in moving toward the future."

Quick Fact: The Saint Mary's College of California School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA) offers two MBA programs (the Evening MBA Program and the Executive MBA Program), the M.S. in Financial Analysis and Investment Management Program, as well as several Undergraduate Business Programs.

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